The eighteenth-ranked Colorado Buffaloes (21-6, 10-4 Pac-12) defeated USC (19-8, 8-6 Pac-12), 70-66, Thursday night at the CU Events Center. Five Buffs scored in double figures and Colorado shot over 60 percent in the second half to complete the season sweep of the Trojans.
Behind a nearly sold-out CU Events Center, the Buffaloes pulled out a gritty, hard-fought victory to gain sole possession of first place in the Pac-12. The second to-last home game of the year proved to be a difficult challenge for Colorado, which struggled early, turning the ball over 11 times in the opening half.
“We can’t come out and start the way we started,” said head coach Tad Boyle postgame. “We’ve got to be crisper, our effort has to be better and our pace needs to be better.”
Buffs fans have grown accustomed to slow starts at the CU Events Center and Thursday night was no different. Colorado fell behind quickly and turnovers plagued the Buffaloes’ offensive rhythm. The Trojan lead reached 14 at the 7:48 mark in the first half before Colorado started to battle back.
Eventually, a three-point play from junior forward Tyler Bey and a three-pointer from sophomore guard Eli Parquet cut the Trojan lead to eight. USC held a 29-26 lead at the break.
Junior guard McKinley Wright IV echoed Boyle’s comments about the effort in the first half, pointing to the double-digit turnover numbers and the Trojans’ nine offensive rebounds
“The turnovers and offensive rebounds, those are two areas that were very bad in the first half,” Wright IV said. “And that’s why we were down 14 points at one point.”
Bey led the Buffaloes in scoring at the half with nine points and five rebounds. Meanwhile, USC senior forward Nick Rakocevic led the Trojans with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Colorado came out the second half with something to prove. After each team exchanged quick baskets, the Buffaloes took their first lead of the night after senior guard Shane Gatling pulled up from mid-range, giving the Buffs a 36-34 lead with 16:59 to play.
Colorado kept its foot on the gas, increasing its lead to 12 with 10 minutes left in the half. The final 20 minutes was a back and forth battle, but the Buffaloes never broke. USC trimmed the Colorado lead to four late, but the Buffaloes prevailed, earning their 21st victory of the season.
Colorado finished the game with Bey, Wright IV, and Gatling scoring in double figures, and Bey recorded a double-double, grabbing 11 rebounds. Gatling shared his thoughts on scoring his most points in a game since December at Colorado State.
“It feels good,” Gatling said. “My teammates were picking me up at halftime because I think I was 1-for-4 at the half. I got beat a couple of times defensively, so they were just trying to pick me up. And like I said, it feels good to score for this team when everyone else is scoring.”
With Saturday night’s win and the Oregon Ducks’ loss to Arizona State that later that evening, Colorado now holds sole possession of first place in the Pac-12. While players smiled and enjoyed the face, Boyle on the other hand reacted expectedly sternly.
“It means nothing,” he said. “It means nothing. There are four games to go and being in first place means nothing. It meant nothing two weeks ago and it means nothing now. What matters is that we have to take care of business on Saturday.”
Saturday marks the final home game of the season for Colorado, which means it’s senior day for forward Lucas Siewert and Gatling. The duo will be playing their last game in Boulder on Saturday.
“We rely on them,” Boyle said. “They deserve to be sent out the right way which is with a win. It’s not going to be easy, UCLA is really good, really talented. We got to do it for them.”
Saturday’s game will be televised by CBS. This is the first time ever a Colorado men’s basketball game will be televised on the network. The final home game of the season is set for this Saturday, February 22 at the CU Events Center against the Bruins.
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. MST.
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